Powerful tradition

Taos Pueblo Powwow celebrates 32 years bringing Native American nations together


They come from all over. Packed into cars, pickup trucks, SUVs and campers, Native American people from many different tribes travel the powwow highway to one of their favorite stops.

For 32 years, the Taos Pueblo Powwow is considered to be one of the best in the nation because of the vivid scenic backdrop of Pueblo Peak, the openness of the land shared with the tribe’s bison herd and the instant community that emerges practically overnight as soon as the first teepee is set up.

This year’s event happens, as it does every year, on the second weekend of July on the Taos Pueblo Powwow Grounds, which are located at the end of Ben Romero Road in El Prado. From Friday through Sunday (July 7-9), visitors will have an opportunity to see up close and personal an America that has always been great.

The modern powwow is part of a cultural phenomena that developed in fits and starts since the late 1800s. Beginning as tribal gatherings for council and celebrations of a good hunt or harvest — in the face of the United States government’s efforts to suppress such things — powwows evolved as a way for people of different languages, customs and beliefs to come together in the ways they could all share: dancing, singing and ceremony.

“The term ‘powwow’ comes from the Algonquin nation of the Eastern Woodlands, meaning ‘a gathering of spiritual leaders.’ Since the early days, Europeans thought ‘powwow’ referred to any large gathering of Indian people,” writes Taos Pueblo Powwow Committee Chairman Richard Archuleta on the event’s website (taospueblopowwow.com). “Now, it is a name often used for Indian celebrations.”

So, after World War II, many returning servicemen and women put the skills they learned in the military to use by helping to build infrastructure in their homelands and looked for ways to reach out to other tribes. By the 1960s, the beginnings of modern powwows could be found among tribes small and large. Today, powwows can be found under traditional arbors, such as the one at Taos, in rodeo arenas, high school gymnasiums and community centers – anywhere that can accommodate a large gathering of dancers, drum groups, friends and lots of families.

Archuleta said helping to put together the powwow over all these years is both satisfying and a huge challenge. “It’s been a lot of work,” he said, “ learning how to make things happen.” But, when he stands in the announcer’s booth, looking out over the sea of dancers in their colorful regalia while listening to Native music from some of the finest drum groups in the nation, he said he can’t help but feel a sense of pride. “That’s the payback,” he said. “It’s entertainment and good fun. You can’t buy that. To see the end result, all the good music, the people — it’s all worth it.”

Of course, an event this large couldn’t happen without the hard work and energy of the Taos Pueblo Powwow Committee, plus all the sponsors, offices of the Taos Pueblo governor and war chief, the Taos Mountain Casino, the town of Taos Lodgers Tax Committee and all the volunteers who have stepped up to keep the gears turning.

Of the things to watch for this year, Archuleta said there will be special dance and drum contests to honor three people who were prominent to some degree in the powwow world. They are Nicolas Sul Concha, John Paul Mondragon and Joe David Marcus. 

This is a competitive powwow, which means dancers and drum groups vie for significant prize money. This is why you may see a numbered tag attached to some. This year, dancers will be competing in a wide variety of style and age categories for cash prizes totaling more than $40,000. 

Managing all the different events is a duty that falls to the experienced members of the head staff. These include Masters of Ceremony Otis Half Moon and Bart Powaukee, along with Arena Directors Bruce Laclair, Evan Trujillo and Head Judge Leonard Atcitty. Head man and woman dancers will be chosen during the event.

Half Moon (Nez Perce) grew up in Lapwai, Idaho, and is proud to say that he is a “Rez Boy,” according to information on the powwow’s website. He was formally a Fancy Feather Dancer and is now a Northern Style Traditional Dancer and has been involved with powwows most of his life. Half Moon has served as emcee for more than 30 years at powwows in Colorado, Idaho, Montana, New Mexico, Oregon, Wyoming and Alberta, Canada. He has served as master of ceremonies for the Taos Pueblo Powwow for 12 years.

Powaukee (Nez Perce) resides on his mother’s reservation, the Ute Indian Tribe in Fort Duchesne, Utah. He has been active in Native American cultural activities and ceremonies all his life, having been partially raised by his grandparents from both tribes, the website states. His is known as a champion Grass Dancer, Round Bustle Dancer, Chicken Dancer, emcee and arena director. This is Powaukee’s second year emceeing for the Taos Pueblo Powwow. 

In addition to the music and dancing, the powwow also features an arts and crafts fair and lots of food and drink concessions. 

Archuleta said one of the things the powwow brings to mind is how it connects with so many different people of different tribes, customs, traditions, languages and beliefs. It is a function that the powwow proudly takes on. “It’s a carryover from the old days,” he said someone told him once, “back when Kiowas and Apaches used to have ‘wall camps’ just outside the village.” It’s a tradition that prompts veteran singers and drummers to note, “If you see a dancer or singer who does something you like, go over to them and recognize that. The powwow is a time to share, to come away with new friends.”

Admission (which includes a camera-video fee) is $15 per person per day, $20 for an individual two-day pass, $25 for an individual three-day pass and free to children 10 and younger. Tickets are available only at the gate (cash only, no personal checks). 

Parking is located directly west of the powwow grounds. There is no fee for parking. Handicapped parking is located near the main entrance to the grounds. The committee apologizes that it cannot allow handicapped parking or drop-offs within the powwow grounds. Parking areas are not lighted, so carrying a flashlight is advised. 

For more information, call (888) 285-6344 or visit taospueblopowwow.com.

2017 Schedule of Events

Friday (July 7)   

Noon. Gates open to the public, arts and crafts and food booths open

2 p.m. Dance and Drum Contest registration opens

7 p.m. Grand Entry

8 p.m. Dance Competition begins

Saturday (July 8)

10 a.m. Gates open to the public, arts and crafts and food booths open

10 a.m.-2 p.m. Dance and Drum Contest registration

10 a.m. Gourd Dance

12:30 p.m. Drum roll call

1 p.m. Grand Entry

1 p.m. Dance Competition begins, intertribal dancing

5 p.m. Supper break

6:30 p.m. Drum roll call

7 p.m. Grand Entry

8 p.m. Dance Competition begins, intertribal dancing

Sunday (July 9)   

10 a.m. Gates open to the public, arts and crafts and food booths open

10 a.m. Gourd Dancing

12:30 p.m. Drum roll call

1 p.m. Grand Entry

2 p.m. Final dance competitions, intertribal dancing

6 p.m. Announcement of contest winners

All times and events are subject to change without notice.

If you go

• Please stay out of the arena unless invited.

• Do not touch the drums or dancer’s regalia unless invited.

• Alcohol, illegal drugs and weapons are strictly prohibited.

• Other than service dogs, please leave your pets at home. Pets are allowed only in campground areas and only if leashed.

• Keep track of small children.

• Stay away from the bison pasture. The animals can be dangerous and unpredictable.

• Weather can change without warning, so bring appropriate clothing.

• The Taos Pueblo Powwow Committee is not responsible for accident, theft, injury, transportation or lack of funds.